Dharavi; a community not a slum
Last week I wrote the post Our Local Guide in Bombay. This new post is a throwback to the first time I met Felix and when he showed me the biggest slum in Asia – Dharavi. An eye opening experience and an activity included in our Discovery Tour “Many Faces of India”
I called Felix one early morning from my balcony at the Bentleys hotel in Colaba.
“Come to café Leopold, you know where it is nah? My shop is there, come and meet me” he said.
“Nice to finally meet you” I said, a friendly smile, a firm handshake and we started chatting about life and the sometimes hard reality of it all. I immediately felt that he would show me something of Bombay that I haven’t seen before. I was recommended to Felix by a friend and she knew exactly what I wanted; inside knowledge and a real experience of a city. We stood in front of his shop, many beggars and vendors attracted by my pale skin trying to convince me to reach into my pocket and share some rupees, I kept smiling being friendly and told them “sorry”, my now good friend Felix gave them an intimidating look and shouted “Challo”
“I know where I’ll take you, come let’s go” Where are we going? I asked “I’ll take you to Dharavi, he says excitingly” his head moving side to side, the silent sign language of India. He probably knew my next question and finished the sentence with “It’s a slum, actually it is a more of a community, close to the airport” as quick as we made the decision, we were on the road. We criss-crossed the busy public transport and changed from bus to Suburban railway, leaving South Mumbai behind us and the pretty impressive Victoria terminus, we were heading to a slum. My mind was trying to picture anything like a slum, dirty piles of garbage, smelly sewage and sad looking kids with torn clothes. Is that something I would want to go and see I asked myself?I had no choice we were already on our way.
About an hour has passed and we reached Mahim station, where the chaos started again. I would compare it with London underground rush hour but 5 times the heat 10 times the smell and 20 times busier, people walking everywhere, in every colour. We chat; I look around, take pictures and try to take it all in, sock factories, jeans cutting and sewing rooms, brick ovens and plastic sorters, children walking to school, woman washing up and dogs chilling on the front porches. The streets are narrow and the flats are built right above eachother but the word slum does not fit here. I see people from all religions, working and making a living, surviving in a way. But I didn’t feel any sadness or poverty.
I didn’t feel as if I entered their world to watch and judge, I was admiring their strength and amazed how they themselves created their community. It was an eye opening and real experience, I recommend anyone to do it.
See some images from Dharavi
This is an article from Conrad and his experience visiting Dharavi.
Slums with water – Lets Promote a Bomb
If in Mumbai with limited time for only one sight, skip the heritage walks looking at Gothic-Mogul architecture; buildings themselves, however stupendous, are a cut-rate way to see a vain city. History talks give a distorted view. Instead go straight to find Mr Felix in Colaba and ask him to take you to Dharavi. Only then will you start to see, and maybe, even this is difficult, to comprehend the great and majestic city of Mumbai.
The sights inside Dharavi are not promoted by the tourist board of India, or seen as a shining light of modern India, for this perspective India employs a crafted promotion of modernity using her many nuclear bombs and her one space rocket – with a bomb on display on India Day – why not show India is as advanced as any western country Mr Modi – it all makes sense to me and I know Ghandi would be so proud of you.
Except in Dharavi – I guess this suburb shows well the ‘stage’ of India and how disinterested the inhabitants are in bombs and rockets, because the government can’t even get water into their houses. OK, a tap on the doorstep and its progress in a slum; until recently it was from a well. Be grateful electricity has arrived to your house!
Mr Felix tells me cottage industries proliferate here and I can see that life is lived in this town- its own self satisfying community. How wonderful is that!
Life is rough and people are busy with living, and today during the cool season it is all very palatable, if the rubbish is ignored, the drains don’t overflow and rats can be pets.
When it rains? Well even in the cool of the season I could picture the running water knee high and waterfalls from the tin roofs. How miserable is that!
When the sun throws it’s fire the tin becomes a radiator and the town of Dharavi tries to melt away. But stubborn men keep the town working and resolute women the house. The children skip school to play cricket and they would love you to join them.
Please find Mr Felix, tell him ROARR Travel sent you, and the delightful man will change your perspective of what a city has to offer.